Ongoing problems with EU settlement scheme affecting millions

Ongoing problems with the scheme designed to secure eligible European Economic Area (‘EEA’) nationals their rights to live and work in the UK after Brexit are putting millions of people at risk of wrongly losing their jobs, homes, and access to healthcare and benefits, a new report finds.

Continuing problems with the scheme’s online ‘proof of status’ portal mean even those who have secured the right to live and work in the UK sometimes have no way to prove this, leaving them needlessly missing flights, job opportunities, and housing rental options.     

Law reform charity JUSTICE brought together legal experts and those with frontline experience of helping people navigate the EU Settlement Scheme (‘EUSS) to write the report.

The EUSS has been registering eligible EEA citizens as UK residents since Brexit ended UK-EU freedom of movement. The EUSS grants successful applicants either ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status, both of which recognise their right to live and work in the UK and to access NHS care and other benefits.

The scheme has had some notable successes – not least by handling applications from over 6 million people. Yet many of those affected have not yet applied because they do not know they need to update their immigration status. Everyone granted pre-settled status also needs to reapply later on to get settled status. Between 15,000 to 20,000 applications come in each month, meaning the scheme’s decisions still impact hundreds of thousands of people every year.

The report identified the following ongoing issues with the scheme (among others), despite the fact that it will have been running for five years at the end of March:

  • Applications are regularly wrongly refused – often due to Home Office caseworkers struggling to understand and consistently apply overly complex guidance. But such decisions are difficult to remedy, particularly with the recent removal of the Home Office’s internal system for reviewing decisions.
  • Unmarried partnerships and young dependents’ family relationships are judged using outdated and culturally exclusive criteria such as financial dependency.
  • Domestic violence victims face particular difficulties safely accessing their status (in one case, for example, the Home Office mistakenly gave a woman’s abusive partner access to her ‘proof of status’ portal despite knowing that her and her child had moved to a safe house.)    
  • People without formal documents like bank statements or council tax records face a far higher bar to prove UK residency despite guidance stating that caseworkers should take a variety of evidence as valid.   

Stephanie Needleman, Legal Director at JUSTICE, says:

“Whether we were born here or made the UK our home later on, our residency rights are the foundations we build our whole lives on.

“For millions of EEA nationals and their family members, the EUSS is the gateway to access those rights. However, for many – particularly those who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances – it is not operating effectively.

“The Home Office must do better, starting with improved staff training and guidance, timely ways to challenge mistakes, and more reliable technology.”

Paul Bowen KC, Chair of the report’s working group, says:

“While in many respects the EUSS has been a success, a number of obstacles are faced by those who have yet to establish their eligibility under the scheme and many people remain unaware of the need to do so. Applications are also now beset by delays and often wrongly refused which can be hard or impossible to remedy.

“JUSTICE pulled together a powerful team of experts and advocates with vast collective experience of these issues to inform this report; I hope the few changes it prescribes will be carefully considered and adopted.”

The report makes 16 recommendations to strengthen the scheme, including: automatically moving eligible people from pre-settled to settled status without having to reapply; giving people a reliable offline way to show their settlement status; training and clearer guidance to ensure all kinds of residence and relationship evidence is given proper weight; a reinstated and improved route to review decisions without the need for an immigration tribunal; and ensuring those who do need to appeal decisions at a tribunal have access to the necessary legal support to do so. 

Notes to editors:

  • For queries or interview requests, please contact Jessica Kaplan on
  • Reforming the EU Settlement Scheme: The Way Forward for the EUSS can be read in full here
  • JUSTICE is a law reform charity working to build a fair, accessible justice system that respects the rights of all. Over our 67-year history we have transformed the legal landscape for the better, led by evidence, expertise, and a focus on practical solutions. Our work spans the justice system – from criminal justice to housing disputes and family law – touching the lives of people across the country.
  • The EUSS was launched on 30 March 2019.